Bergera vs. Collier: quorum conflict smackdown

By: J. Stapley - November 21, 2006

Collier’s recently published Office Journal of Brigham Young includes, in appendices, several meeting transcripts that relate to the tension over Orson Pratt in the governing quorums of the Church. In the introduction to these appendices, Collier claims that a certain researcher (Gary Bergera) misused and poorly transcribed one of these manuscripts and “went so far as to deliberately alter documents in order to cast aspersion upon President Young.” Count this as reason #132 that the Church Archives should not restrict material like this.

On April 4, 1860 the quorum of the Twelve and the First Presidency met to discuss the future of Orson Pratt. Pratt did not buy into a lot of Brigham’s teachings and had a speculative proclivity himself. Pratt was unwilling to accept something he simply didn’t believe. Still the council worked together to determine a way in which future public conflict would be prevented, Pratt would retain his apostleship and past indiscretion would not be accepted as doctrine.

The best and most complete account of this meeting is very difficult to read, and those that have transcribed it make a special note of the fact. In 1980 Bergera published “The Orson Pratt–Brigham Young Controversies: Conflict Within the Quorums, 1853-1868″ in Dialogue (no. 2). Below are the accounts of a critical excerpt from this paper and the corresponding Colliers transcription (Appendix B):

Bergera, pg. 26
Turning to face the President of the Quorum of the Twelve, Orson Hyde, Young demanded, “I want a confession that I can send to the whole of the people that will cover the church and preserve bro. Orson a whole Apostle, before the whole church, then we want bro Orson that can save him I want such a thing published all over the world….Thus saith the Lord, ‘[G]o do that.’ Now you understand what I want,…It’s not the matter Bro. Orson has at heart it’s the manner…Bro. Orson Pratt should say I have no judgement upon the matter, or should have had none. Brother O. Pratt what do you think about it?”

Collier, pg. 424-425 (1)
I know his integrity [-] I love him, [-] I mean to hang on to him, [-] I want a confession that I can send to the whole of the people that will cover all this ground & preserve bro. Orson a whole Apostle, before the whole church, then we want bro Orson [to make a confession] that can save him.

I want such a thing published all over the world, [-] when he has written on baptism & the first prin[ciples his doctrine is sound,] but when [he has] written on Gods &c. [his writings are a] chimera of the brain [-] [it is vain] philosophy – dont want [anything] but Thus saith the Lord God [-] do that [and] they don’t [have to] ask any hypothesis, [-] [they] dont have to stop and phylosphize[.] Now you understand what I want, & if Bro. Orson thinks & take the 12 [to assist him], & fix the items [which have been mentioned here tonight] – then get the thing right & read it to the people & say that lest I could not speak it I have written it.

John Taylor, finds it easier to get out of the path than to get into it. I heard Orson & thought [that] some items he meant right – It is important for the 12 to teach correct doctrine & it is for Prest. Y. to see that we get it right

[three blank lines]

B.Y. It’s not the matter Bro. Orson has at heart[,] its the manner.

O.H. Where a full acknowledgement of authority exists itr (sic) ought __ ______ but the truth ought to have the credit. I said to a man, what would you give to know the truth, — [he said:] [“]I would not yield to the truth.[“] I told him the truth trammeled no good man – I feel as though the truth would make us free.

B.Y. [When there is a ] difference in opinion & judgment, their judgment should be left at rest until the truth forms that judgment – Any judgment not framed right must be [re]framed by the prin[ciples] of eternal truth. Bro. O Pratt, should say[,] I have no judgment upon the matter, or should have had none. Brother O. Pratt what do you think about it.

If the Collier account is to be trusted, then it is obvious that the Bergera redaction is highly flawed and is a mischaracterization of events. Throughout the Bergera account, dramatic details are added that I cannot account for in the transcript of the meeting (such as “Turning to face the President of the Quorum,” or previously, “Young gestured towards Pratt.”

It is equally evident that in some instances Collier’s editorial clarification are over-reaching. E.g, “when he has written on baptism & the first prin[ciples his doctrine is sound].” Collier’s interjection actually makes a lot of sense in context, but that could be debated.

This was not Bergera’s final word, however. Collier’s criticisms are actually affirmed in this passage by Bergera himself. 22 years after the publication of the Dialogue article, he published Conflict in the Quorum [Signature Books]. While Bergera retains his dramatic interpretation (even enhancing it), his larger treatment lines up much better with Collier’s transcription, though falls into the same editorial challenges:

Facing quorum president Orson Hyde, Young stressed, “I know his [Pratt’s] integrity[.] I love him, [and] I mean to hang on to him[.] I want a confession that I can send to the whole of the people that will cover all the church & preserve bro Orson a whole Apostle, before the whole church, then we want bro Orson[,] that can save him.

“I want such a thing published all over the world,” Young ordered. “When he has written on baptism & the first prin[ciples , he teaches true doctrine,] but when [he has] written on God &c [it is a] chimera of the brain[, a] philosopher[‘s doctrine, and we] don’t want that. Thus saith the Lord[.] [G]o do that[, and] they don’t have to ask [if] any [teaching is a] hypothesis [and he] dont have to stop philosophizing.

“Now you understand what I want,” Young insisted. “[I]f Bro Orson thinks [about it and writes his sermon] & take[s it to] the 12, to fix the items[,] then get the thing right & read it to the people & say that [it is an update of his] last [sermon, and he should say] I could not speak it [extemporaneously as well as] I have written it.”

Seconding Young’s comments, John Taylor said that he “finds it easier to get out of the path than to get into it. I heard Bro. Orson & thought in somethings he meant right. It is important for the 12 to teach correct doctrine & it is for Prest. Y to see that we get [it] right.”

“It’s not the matter [of what] Bro. Orson has at heart[,] it’s the manner,” Young clarified.

“I said to a man,” offered Hyde, “[W]hat would you give to know the truth[?] I would not yield to the truth. I told him the truth trammeled [and was] no good. [Now] I feel as though the truth would make us free.”

“[Where there is a] difference in opinion & judgment,” Young concluded, “their [the apostles’] judgement should be left at rest until the truth forms that judgement. [A]ny judgement [should] not [be] framed out [until it can] be framed by the prin[ciples] of eternal truth. Bro. Orson Pratt, should say I have no judgement upon the matter, or should have had none. Bro O. Pratt,” Young asked, turning to Pratt, “what do you think about it?” (Conflict in the Quorum, pg. 179-180)

It would seem that the major contention between this account and Collier’s is over the phrase “thus saith the Lord.” This one example proves an excellent case study in the ramifications of restricted yet limitedly circulated materials that are profoundly germane to our historical narrative. While there are others, to be sure, we can have the hope that in proving contraries, the truth will be manifest.

_______________

  1. Instead of brackets for editorial punctuation, Collier used boldface type. Where he thought a sentence ended but no capital letter followed, he inserted a bold dash. For purposes of comparison, I have either removed added punctuation (e.g., dont from dont) or bracketed it (as in the case of the emphasized dashes).

18 Comments

  1. This is interesting stuff, yet I wonder at times what claim we have on the records of a quorum we are not members of. I am reminded of many historical figures who burned their papers before their deaths. We would love to know all the details of current and past leadership councils and would probably be edified by the knowledge, but our open view of such things would stifle the interactions within the councils. I’ve listened on C-SPAN radio to phone conversations between Nixon and Kissinger and between Lyndon Johnson and his people. I love that stuff, yet the conversations would have been more guarded and not as interesting if they had been conducted with the thought of them being broadcast over the radio.

    Comment by John Mansfield — 11/21/2006 @ 3:21 pm

  2. Perhaps you are right John. I tend to think, however, if you put a reasonable distribution moratorium on the items, the importance out ways the concerns. For example let’s say they were made available to researchers 50 years after the fact and when all participants had past away. I think the example of the presidential papers is actually a good example as they are public property.

    Comment by J. Stapley — 11/21/2006 @ 5:14 pm

  3. I wonder how much this O. Pratt/ B. Young exchange acted as a precedent setter for our modern leadership and dealing with conflicts like BRM’s Mormon Doctrine?

    Comment by Matt W. — 11/21/2006 @ 5:26 pm

  4. I am curious about Bergera’s readings “cover the church” (1980) and “cover all the church” (2002) vs. Collier’s “cover all this ground” (2006).

    Seems to be a great deal of interpretive conjecture by both writers.

    Comment by Justin — 11/21/2006 @ 5:33 pm

  5. Matt: I wonder how much this O. Pratt/ B. Young exchange acted as a precedent setter for our modern leadership and dealing with conflicts like BRM’s Mormon Doctrine?

    I imagine that it had little to no effect. The case outlined in this post involved men that had labored together for 30 years. McConkie was a Seventy and had very little relationships with the First Presidency. There are similarities of course, e.g., the desire to preserve the individual in the office of their calling. There are dissimilarities as well – Pratt recanted publically while McKay thought that would be too damaging to McConkie (though he considered it). Mostly, I imagine that they didn’t know much about it at the time.

    Seems to be a great deal of interpretive conjecture by both writers.

    It does seem that way.

    Comment by J. Stapley — 11/21/2006 @ 5:55 pm

  6. As Bergera points out there were historical issues with Pratt and polandry that perhaps set up the later events. I’m not sure I agree with Bergera of the significance, but there definitely were already issues between Young and Pratt. I also think that, unlike the 1950’s, the era of Young and Pratt was still a period where leadership was being decided. Young’s presidency wasn’t as strong as we like to imagine so there was the whole issue of who controls doctrine going on as well. While that obviously was going on with McConkie it clearly wasn’t in the same way. (Thus McConkie’s victory)

    Comment by Clark Goble — 11/21/2006 @ 7:13 pm

  7. Clark, you are spot on. In the meetings where Pratt’s situation was debated, there was significant references to his stuborness/rebelion dating back to the incedent in Nauvoo.

    Comment by J. Stapley — 11/21/2006 @ 8:49 pm

  8. Interestingly it was later, in 1875, that Brigham Young lowered both Hyde and Pratt in seniority in the quorum. I know that the justification was that they lost seniority during their brief absences decades earlier, but it seems like there must have been more to it. Maybe Brigham couldn’t bear the thought of Pratt becoming President? Did he have anything against Hyde?

    I’m sure that you are aware that there are a couple of interesting entries in Messages of the First Presidency on this episode.

    It is easy to take a tabloid view of these kinds of things, but it can also be endearing to see such men struggle in their callings (just as we do in ours) and yet remain bonded to one another.

    Comment by Jared* — 11/21/2006 @ 9:44 pm

  9. It is easy to take a tabloid view of these kinds of things, but it can also be endearing to see such men struggle in their callings (just as we do in ours) and yet remain bonded to one another.

    I very much agree.

    About the rearrangement of the seniority, it was very much tied to Brigham’s (and the Lord’s?) volition. The evidence would suggest that neither Hyde nor Pratt were excomunicated, but they both had had serious bouts of discordance.

    Comment by J. Stapley — 11/21/2006 @ 11:12 pm

  10. Jared*, it appears to be over a test by Joseph Smith regarding Orson Pratt’s wife. As has been often discussed Joseph appeared to give tests of this sort to many of the leading brethren to test their loyalty. (Note I don’t claim this is all that is going on but I think it is the major issue) Pratt failed and Brigham Young, because of this, didn’t trust him. Events are a tad more complex than that but that’s ultimately what it comes down to.

    I agree that Young couldn’t bear Pratt becoming President but that is why. There was also the issue of Pratt not necessarily buying some of Young’s claims regarding succession at Winter Quarters. Bergera says he didn’t think Young resented this (which lasted for 3 weeks) but I tend to think it stuck with him.

    As to Hyde that may well be the real reason for the reshuffling more than Pratt. Young said in 1856 that Orson Hyde was “no more fit to stand at the Head of the Quorum of the Twelve than a dog.” (Woodruff Journal 4:477 quoted in Bergera, 261) By some accounts though George A. Smith was the principle factor in the reshuffling, despite Young’s frequent views of Hyde and Pratt (especially during the theological disputes)

    Comment by Clark — 11/22/2006 @ 1:48 am

  11. Sorry Clark, I don’t quite follow you. What does George A. Smith have to do with it?

    Comment by Jared* — 11/22/2006 @ 9:43 am

  12. George Smith was Young’s councilor and pushed fairly hard for the rearrangement.

    Comment by J. Stapley — 11/22/2006 @ 11:40 am

  13. Even when Young was more on the fence Smith had come around to the position that Hyde and Pratt shouldn’t have a chance for being President.

    Comment by Clark Goble — 11/22/2006 @ 3:00 pm

  14. Interesting. Thanks.

    Comment by Jared* — 11/22/2006 @ 3:36 pm

  15. #8 re the reordering of Hyde and Pratt:

    1. By 1875, Young’s health had started to decline. He was using a brass catheter on occasions and, having made out his last will and testament several years before, his thoughts had turned to the fraility of his own mortality. The reorganization had to be made as a precaution against his own death.

    2. It also had to be made because Hyde’s own health was in decline by this point. Young couldn’t imagine the thought of a dotty president taking the reigns of a sprawling kingdom that faced so many threats from the outside. Hyde had already shown himself capable of buckling under pressure. The oldtimers all knew this. The fact is, Hyde didn’t inspire confidence the way Taylor did.

    Comment by Jerusha — 12/1/2006 @ 1:36 pm

  16. Thanks for the added insight, Jerusha.

    Comment by J. Stapley — 12/1/2006 @ 2:52 pm

  17. I first stumbled onto the original minutes of the April 1860 Pratt-Young meetings in LDS Archives back in the late 1970s, and tried my best to decipher Robert Campbell’s abbreviated notes. When I periodically revisit those early transcripts, I find mistakes I’ve made. I tried to correct these in “Conflict in the Quorum” (I’m sure some misreadings remain). Fred Collier’s transcription may be the most correct version of these minutes presently available (though I haven’t yet compared his to mine). I certainly don’t consider myself to duking it out with Collier, and frankly am grateful that his transcription is now available.

    Comment by Gary Bergera — 1/6/2007 @ 6:06 pm

  18. Gary, I appreciate your stopping by. I really don’t know how accurate the transcriptions are, I defer to those who have access. I also apologize as I seem to have mis-characterized the interplay between Collier and yourself. Collier is the one making inflammatory accusations. You are simply publishing fascinating history.

    I also hope that my commentary was not offensive. It was not intended to be so. It should be noted that Conflict in the Quorum was released long before Collier’s edition of the Brigham Young office journal.

    Comment by J. Stapley — 1/6/2007 @ 6:57 pm

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